Former US president Barack Obama on Wednesday applauded the “profound” protests by Americans demanding racial justice and said demonstrations over last week’s killing of a black man in police custody could spark nationwide reforms.
In his first video comments since George Floyd’s death on May 25 in Minneapolis triggered unrest across the country, President Donald Trump’s predecessor also urged state and local authorities to review their policies on the use of force.
Obama directed his comments at young black men and women who he says have often witnessed or experienced too much violence.
“Too often some of that violence has come from folks who were supposed to be serving and protecting you,” Obama said in a webcast with activists.
“I want you to know that you matter. I want you to know that your lives matter, your dreams matter.”
He also said that in the last few weeks, Americans have witnessed “the kinds of epic changes and events in our country that are as profound as anything that I’ve seen in my lifetime.”
The 58-year-old, who remains popular among Democrats, noted the deadly upheaval of the 1960s civil rights movement and said “a far more representative cross-section of America” is protesting now than as compared to half a century ago.
“There is a change in mindset that’s taking place, a greater recognition that we can do better,” Obama said.
Young protesters, in particular, have been galvanized, he said, and their motivation could serve as inspiration for broader change.
“It’s very important for us to take the momentum that has been created as a society, as a country, and say ‘Let’s use this’ to finally have an impact,” Obama said.
He also addressed the country’s local leaders, saying “I’m urging every mayor in this country to review your use-of-force policies with members of your community and commit to report on planned reforms.”
Obama did not directly address Trump’s handling of the unrest, including the president’s controversial demand that authorities “dominate” protesters.
But Obama was reportedly outraged by the use of chemical dispersants on protesters outside the White House Monday before Trump walked to a nearby church and held up a Bible.
Germany and Estonia submitted Tuesday a resolution to the UN Security Council on a ceasefire in various conflicts around the world during the coronavirus pandemic, to replace one drafted by France and Tunisia that the United States has blocked.
Encompassing five major points — compared to the previous draft’s nine — the proposal by the two non-permanent members of the Security Council and seen by AFP “demands a general and immediate cessation of hostilities in all situations on its agenda.”
Such a move is intended to help some 20 countries in crisis or at war battle the coronavirus, but it is unclear if concrete steps on the ground have been taking.
The resolution borrows from the French-Tunisian proposal, using language agreed upon by the 15 Council members during negotiations that have been ongoing since March or that had been used in previous resolutions, such as making ceasefire exceptions to battle jihadist groups.
As in the French-Tunisian resolution, the new proposal calls for a “humanitarian pause for at least 90 consecutive days” in order to allow for the delivery of aid to the hardest-hit communities.
A date has not yet been set for the vote, but it could happen quickly if none of the five permanent Council members threatens to use its veto, as when Washington criticized the mention of the World Health Organization (WHO) in the French-Tunisian resolution.
The German-Estonian text makes no mention of the WHO, so the uncertainty resides with China, which until the last minute insisted on a reference to the UN health group, even an implicit one.
The new resolution was proposed Tuesday during a teleconference held behind closed doors and organized by Estonia, which holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council. The resolution was submitted in the afternoon.
One of the diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said China declared in the meeting that it backed swift action in the council.
– Compromise –
At the end of last week, Beijing and Washington both denied responsibility for the breakdown of negotiations led by Paris and Tunis.
The US stunned the Council on Friday by blocking the resolution from going forward, stating that Washington “cannot support the current draft.”
The reversal came a day after Washington had agreed to the text, negotiators said on condition of anonymity.
The US State Department said the Security Council “should either proceed with a resolution limited to support for a ceasefire, or a broadened resolution” that addressed the issues of transparency and responsibility. The State Department also accused Beijing of blocking any efforts to reach consensus since March.
Washington had threatened to use its veto if there were any explicit reference to the World Health Organization, which President Donald Trump has accused of downplaying the seriousness of the virus outbreak that began in China.
Diplomats say that at the same time Beijing had brandished its own veto if the global health body were not mentioned, before ultimately accepting an implicit reference.
“We must find a way out from this deadlock,” Estonia’s ambassador to the UN, Sven Jurgenson, told AFP.
“It is (a) real shame that we, the Security Council, have not been able to fulfill our responsibility on this matter,” he said, adding he hoped to quickly come to an agreement.
For two months, “despite the differences in positions and perceptions that still hinder consensus, discussions among member states have been important and constructive,” Tunisia’s UN Ambassador Kais Kabtani told AFP.
“Tunisia never gave up hope in achieving compromise and winning approval for the first Security Council resolution since COVID-19 started ravaging the globe,” he said.
One diplomat, speaking anonymously, said it was time to turn the page after the first resolution failed.
Another diplomat, also speaking on condition of anonymity, added it was necessary to get the ball rolling again.
But after two months of silence from the Security Council, the damage is done, he said, noting it was unfortunate that the human tragedy caused by the pandemic did not rapidly rally support for the UN chief’s call for a ceasefire in various conflicts around the world.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ appeal on March 23 was somewhat heeded in some countries, but violence has since resumed or intensified, particularly in Afghanistan, Yemen and Libya.
The doctor who treated the first COVID-19 patient in the United States said Monday he fears a second outbreak of the disease when lockdown measures are lifted.
George Díaz’s first patient, diagnosed in January in Washington state, has already recovered after receiving remdesivir, an experimental drug that the US approved on Friday for emergency use.
While he feels encouraged by this anti-viral, Diaz emphasized that isolation to avoid contagion remains the “most effective” treatment for COVID-19 right now.
Since that first case in January, the US has overtaken all other countries to have by far the highest caseload — about 1.2 million — as well as the most deaths, around 69,000.
Despite forecasts of a worsening death toll, some states are already reopening to try to ease the economic strain of shelter-in-place orders that have put more than 30 million Americans out of work in six weeks.
“What worries me is that when the economy starts to reopen, we are going to see a second outbreak that is perhaps as big as the first, and the first one was very difficult for us and for the whole world,” Díaz told reporters during a video meeting organized by the State Department.
The Nigerian government has received $311,797,866.11 recovered assets of General Sani Abacha repatriated from the United States and the Bailiwick of Jersey.
The Attorney-General of Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, confirmed this on Monday in a statement by the Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations at his office, Dr Umar Gwandu.
According to Malami, the amount increased significantly from over $308 million mentioned in an earlier statement in February to over $311million as a result of the interest that accrued from February 3 to April 28, when the fund was transferred to the Central Bank of Nigeria.
He noted that the litigation process for the return of the assets titled ‘Abacha III’ commenced in 2014 while the diplomatic process that culminated in the signing of the Asset Return Agreement commenced in 2018.
The agreement was signed on February 3 by the governments of Nigeria, the United States, and the Bailiwick of Jersey.
“This Agreement is based on international law and cooperation measures, that sets out the procedures for the repatriation, transfer, disposition, and management of the assets,” he said.
According to the statement, the recovery effort consolidates on the record of the Muhammadu Buhari administration which has a history of recovery of $322m from Switzerland in 2018.
It added that the recovered loots were transparently and judiciously deployed in supporting indigent Nigerians as specified in the agreement signed with Switzerland and the World Bank.
Malami, who led the negotiation team, noted that the tripartite agreement and the process towards the implementation represented a major watershed in International Asset Recovery and Repatriation as it sought to provide benefit to the victims of corruption.
He said, “In line with the 2020 Asset Return Agreement, the fund has been transferred to a Central Bank of Nigeria Asset Recovery designated account and would be paid to the National Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) within the next fourteen days.
“The NSIA is responsible for the management and execution of the projects to which the funds will be applied.”
The minister insisted that the latest recovery would support and assist in expediting the construction of three major infrastructure projects across Nigeria – Lagos – Ibadan Expressway, Abuja – Kano Road, and the Second Niger Bridge.
He revealed that the government was in the process of establishing a Project Monitoring Team to oversee the implementation of the projects and report regularly on progress made to the public.
In order to ensure transparent management of the returned assets, Malami said the government would engage a Civil Society Organisation who has combined expertise in substantial infrastructure projects, civil engineering, anti-corruption compliance, anti-human trafficking compliance, and procurement to provide additional monitoring and oversight.
He noted that the process for the engagement of the CSO monitor has already commenced with the adverts placed in two local newspapers.
The recovered funds, according to the minister, were laundered through the U.S. banking system and then held in bank accounts in the Bailiwick of Jersey.
He revealed that a U.S. Federal Court in Washington D.C. forfeited the money in 2014, as property involved in the illicit laundering of the proceeds of corruption arising in Nigeria during the period when General Abacha was Head of State from 1993 to 1998.
Malami added that in 2017, the Nigerian government filed a case in the Bailiwick of Jersey to assert its authority as the owner of the funds and as the victim of the action of General Abacha.
He, therefore, called for greater cooperation and mutual respect among countries in the implementation of expeditious cooperation measures already set out in the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, and in the implementation of the Global Forum on Asset Recovery (GFAR) principles on the repatriation of stolen assets.
The minister assured Nigerians that the government would ensure that the returned assets were transparently managed.
The Nigerian Government has concluded plans to evacuate about 270 Nigerians willing to return home from the United States.
This was disclosed in a statement dated May 3 from the Consulate General of Nigeria in New York.
The consulate explained that a one-way flight has been arranged for the evacuation of stranded Nigerians in the US and would take off on Sunday night.
It added that the flight operated by Ethiopian Airlines with a 270-passenger capacity would evacuate travellers at their expense and the returnees would fly economy class.
According to the statement, the flight will depart for Abuja from Newark (EWR) Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, United States, and is expected to arrive at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport on Monday next week.
It also revealed that over 700 citizens have registered with the Nigerian Missions in the US to be evacuated but only 270 people would be accommodated.
The consulate stressed that applications to be evacuated would be considered on a ‘first-come, first-served basis while the list of evacuees would be treated according to their immigration status.
It said those who have proofs of short-stay visas, the elderly, families with children, and returning students would also be given special attention.
“As you know, I wrote and championed the Violence Against Women Act, transformed how this country gets justice and support to survivors and led the ‘It’s On Us’ campaign to fight sexual assault on campuses. As VP, I fought to provide a special victims counsel for sexual assault cases in the military,” the 77-year-old said.
He promised that “all options are on the table” when it came to assaults in the military.
Biden spoke as the furor surrounding the claim by Reade continues to grow, despite a statement issued by his campaign on April 13 which said the incident “absolutely did not happen.”
The claim has drowned out other news about Biden, such as his search for a running mate, who he has pledged will be a woman.
President Donald Trump’s campaign manager Brad Parscale has flooded his Twitter feed with mocking references to Reade’s allegation, ignoring the string of accusations made by women against his own candidate.
More than a dozen women have accused the real estate mogul of sexual misconduct including rape before he became president.
Biden has not been asked directly about Reade’s allegation in either the interviews he has given from his Delaware home, where he has been confined because of the coronavirus pandemic, or various online campaign events.
According to Reade, the assault took place in August 1993 in a hallway on Capitol Hill.
“We were alone, and it was the strangest thing,” Reade said in a late March interview on the Katie Halper Show podcast. “There was no, like, exchange, really, he just had me up against the wall.
“His hands were on me and underneath my clothes and, yeah, he went, he went down my skirt but then up inside it and he penetrated me with his fingers,” she said.
“He was kissing me at the same time,” she said.
Reade said she pulled away and Biden allegedly said: “Come on man, I heard you liked me.”
“For me everything shattered at that moment,” Reade said.
Reade has since recounted her story to other media outlets, and filed an incident report with the Washington police in early April — seen by AFP — in which she did not name Biden.
“This is an inactive case,” a police spokesman told AFP when asked about the status of the matter.
Reade told the right-leaning Washington Examiner that she had filed the report to show she was serious and establish a paper trail.
Other women have accused Biden of touching them inappropriately in the past, and Reade’s initial claims were similar — less severe than her most recent allegations.
The New York Times reported that it had interviewed Reade on multiple occasions, along with her friends and others who worked for Biden in the early 1990s.
According to the Times, no former Biden staffers corroborated her account, and a pattern of misconduct was not uncovered.
A friend said Reade had told her about the alleged assault at the time. A second friend said Reade told her in 2008 of a traumatic experience while working in Biden’s office.
Reade said she had also related the incident to her brother.
The allegations have led some supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders, who dropped out of the Democratic race and endorsed Biden, to call on the former vice president to end his White House bid.
“Out of respect for survivors and for the good of the country, he should withdraw from the race,” said Claire Sandberg, the former national organizing director of the Sanders campaign.
The United States has surpassed the grim milestone of 50,000 deaths from the coronavirus pandemic.
Meanwhile, gyms, hair salons, and tattoo parlors had a green light to reopen on Friday in the US state of Georgia.
As the southern state lifted restrictions on a list of businesses that also included nail salons and bowling alleys, President Donald Trump warned that Governor Brian Kemp may be moving too fast.
“Spas, beauty salons, tattoo parlors, & barber shops should take a little slower path,” Trump tweeted.
At the same time, Trump said he had told Kemp, a Republican ally, “to do what is right for the great people of Georgia (& USA)!”
The mixed messaging was the latest from a president whose remarks from the White House podium have frequently raised eyebrows, including most recently a suggestion that disinfectant could be injected to treat patients with COVID-19.
Trump sought to walk back his disinfectant comments on Friday, claiming somewhat unconvincingly that he had been speaking “sarcastically.”
With much of the country on lockdown for a month, customers showed up early at several Georgia shops.
Chris Edwards, owner of the Peachtree Battle Barber Shop, saw his first customers in line at 7:00 am.
He said he was “happy” about being allowed to reopen his store in an Atlanta strip mall, where most establishments remained closed.
“I’m a small businessman,” Edwards told AFP as he gave a trim to a middle-aged man.
“If I don’t cut hair I don’t make money,” Edwards said. “We’re being safe, we’re being clean, it’s all you can do.”
Edwards was wearing a mask, but the customer was not.
Other shops followed more rigid rules. One Atlanta hair salon tested everyone’s temperature as they entered, while a nail boutique northwest of the city required clients to sign waivers before receiving manicures.
Kemp’s reopening plan has met with criticism from some business owners and residents in the Peach State who voiced fears it is too soon.
Several businesses with permission to open, including some fitness centers and hair salons, remained shuttered in Atlanta Friday.
“Believe in Science, Not Kemp,” said a sign displayed by a person who honked repeatedly while driving past the governor’s mansion. “Stay Home, Stay Safe,” read another.
Eden Lio, a restaurant hostess and bookbinder who lost both her jobs in the crisis, was nonetheless participating in the rolling protest.
“We’re going to get more sick if we open today,” the 20-year-old said through her cloth mask. “We’re not ready at all.”
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms echoed that sentiment and urged residents of the capital city to stay home.
With the state’s infection numbers and deaths rising, she said it was “irresponsible” to allow businesses to open now.
“There is nothing essential about going to a bowling alley or giving a manicure in the middle of a pandemic,” she told ABC News in a denunciation of Kemp’s order.
Some in Atlanta, however, cherished the opportunity to re-engage with society.
“I actually had a great time, a beaming Tili Banks, 41, said as she and a friend emerged from one of the few bowling allies that opened Friday.
“I was just so happy to be out that I didn’t even realize I had these people’s bowling shoes on when I walked outside,” she said.
The United States is the country hardest-hit by the virus, with more than 890,000 confirmed cases and 51,017 deaths as of late Friday, according to a toll by Johns Hopkins University.
22,000 Georgia cases
Georgia’s bid to jumpstart thousands of teetering businesses is the most aggressive return-to-normalcy effort in the nation.
Restaurants, theaters and private social clubs can open from Monday, provided social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines are in place.
But there is concern that easing shelter-in-place orders too early could trigger new outbreaks.
Georgia’s coronavirus figures are far lower than those in New York, the US epicenter, but they are substantial.
The state has more than 22,400 confirmed cases with 899 deaths, its health department said Friday.
With the Trump administration pressing for a return to some form of economic stability, several states have taken steps to ease lockdowns.
“We’re opening our country. It’s very exciting to see,” Trump said.
In Michigan, Governor Gretchen Whitmer extended her stay-at-home order until May 15, but she eased some restrictions by allowing landscapers and bike mechanics to return to work, and ended prohibitions against golfing and motorboating.
Whitmer, a Democrat, had been criticized for imposing limitations seen by many Michiganders as too restrictive.
The northern state has recorded more than 3,000 COVID-19 deaths.
President Donald Trump’s administration said Friday it would sell ventilators to at least four developing countries to fight the coronavirus, saying US needs were being met.
Trump said he spoke by telephone to the presidents of Indonesia, Ecuador, El Salvador and Honduras and promised that the United States would send the vital medical equipment.
“We will be sending them desperately needed Ventilators, of which we have recently manufactured many, and helping them in other ways,” Trump wrote on Twitter of his call to President Lenin Moreno of Ecuador, which has seen a spike in coronavirus cases.
Michael Kozak, the top US diplomat for Latin America, confirmed the United States was selling the ventilators.
“We’re seeing our own needs met; we can become an exporter again,” Kozak told reporters.
“I think in many of these cases that the countries just want to buy them. They aren’t asking us for financing,” he said.
But Kozak said some countries may use assistance from the United States to make the purchases.
Governors led by New York’s Andrew Cuomo said they were seriously short of ventilators at the start of the pandemic and had faulted the federal government.
But Cuomo last week said New York would send ventilators to Michigan and Maryland as the situation had stabilized in his own state — the worst-hit by the pandemic that has killed more than 50,000 people in the United States.
With companies such as Ford and General Motors switching to ventilator production, Trump has boasted that the country as a whole is in good shape and said foreign leaders were asking him for supplies.
“No country is equipped like we are. We have 11 different places making ventilators,” Trump told reporters Thursday.
“Our country, as you know, doesn’t need them now. Our governors are very happy,” Trump said.
In his tweets, Trump praised Honduras and El Salvador for helping curb emigration to the United States — a signature issue for the mogul-turned-president.
Guatemala is also a major source of migrants but has temporarily stopped accepting deported citizens from the United States due to coronavirus infections.
Kozak said that Guatemala — not mentioned in Trump’s tweets on ventilators — was not being punished.
“There isn’t some hard linkage here between cooperation on removals and ventilators. We’re trying to get medicine and medical supplies to anybody who needs them”
The World Health Organization on Wednesday urged the United States and China to join forces to fight the coronavirus pandemic, saying there would be “many more body bags” without international unity.
“The United States and China should come together and fight this dangerous enemy,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual briefing in Geneva, following criticism from US President Donald Trump that the UN health body “blew it” and was “very China centric”.
The United States government has called on health experts seeking to work in the country to apply for visas.
It made the call in a statement on Friday, amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has killed many people with thousands infected in that country.
“We encourage medical professionals with an approved U.S. non-immigrant or immigrant visa petition (I-129, I-140, or similar) or a certificate of eligibility in an approved exchange visitor programme (DS-2019), particularly those working to treat or mitigate the effects of COVID-19, to review the website of their nearest embassy or consulate for procedures to request a visa appointment,” the statement published on www.travel.state.gov said.
The US also asked other foreign medical professionals already in the country to consult with their sponsor to extend their programmes in the country.
It noted that ‘J-1 programme’ for foreign medical residents can be extended one year at a time for up to seven years.
The government, however, explained that the expiration date on a visa does not determine how long a foreigner can stay in the US.
China and the United States should “unite to fight” the deadly coronavirus pandemic, President Xi Jinping said in a call with Donald Trump on Friday, as he called for the US to improve relations.
The two countries have clashed in recent weeks over the virus, and Chinese state media said Xi told Trump he hoped the “US will take substantive actions to improve Sino-US relations.”
He also called for the two countries to work together to tackle the virus and said Beijing “wishes to continue sharing all information and experience with the US”, according to state broadcaster CCTV.
Trump sounded a positive tone, tweeting that he had a “very good conversation” with Xi, and that both leaders discussed the pandemic “in great detail”.
“China has been through much & has developed a strong understanding of the virus. We are working closely together. Much respect,” he wrote.
Trump and his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo angered Beijing this month by repeatedly referring to “the Chinese virus” when discussing the COVID-19 outbreak first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Trump has since dropped the term amid accusations of racism, in another small sign of easing tensions between the two world powers.
Earlier this month a foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing also suggested in a tweet that the US military brought the virus to Wuhan.
This prompted Trump to accuse China of spreading misinformation, and the US president repeatedly attacked China’s lack of transparency and the slowness of its initial response to the outbreak.
Xi said Sino-US relations were at a “critical juncture”, CCTV reported, adding that cooperation was mutually beneficial and “the only right choice.”
Friday’s call also took place as the US overtook China as the country with the most confirmed coronavirus cases — the pathogen has now infected more than 82,400 people in the world’s largest economy.
During the call, Xi said China had shared information about the epidemic with the World Health Organization and other countries including the US in a “timely” manner throughout.
“Infectious diseases are the common enemy of mankind, and do not recognise borders or races,” said Xi.
Some provinces, cities and companies in China have provided medical supplies and support to the US as well, Xi added.
At an emergency videoconference chaired by Saudi Arabia Thursday — which both Xi and Trump joined — G20 nations pledged a “united front” in the fight against the coronavirus.
The group said they would inject $5 trillion into the global economy to counter the pandemic amid forecasts of a deep recession.